Gavin Hamilton

Priam Pleading with Achilles for the Body of Hector

?engraved 1775

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 635 x 991 mm
frame: 773 x 1116 x 86 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1966
Reference
T00864

Display caption

Hamilton spent much of his life in Rome. His paintings from ancient history, painted there in the 1760s and widely known through prints, were highly influential. The most famous were six subjects from Homer's 'Iliad' of which this, commissioned by Lord Mountjoy and engraved in 1775, was the fifth. Priam, King of Troy, prostrates himself before Achilles to plead for the body of Hector, which Achilles has desecrated in furious revenge for the death of his friend Patroclus; Achilles begins to yield to compassion. The frieze-like composition is derived from Roman sarcophagus sculpture, and the heroic figures, with their emphatic gestures and expressions, from Poussin, whose paintings Hamilton admired.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Gavin Hamilton 1723–1798

T00864 Priam Pleading with Achilles for the Body of Hector

Not inscribed.
Oil on canvas, 25¿ x 39¿ (64.5 x 100)
Purchased from Daniel Popovich (Grant-in-Aid) 1966.
Coll. Daniel Popovich, Belgrade and New York, sold Christie’s, 25th March 1966 (143), bt. in; subsequently bt. by the Tate Gallery.

This appears to be a small preliminary version of the picture which Hamilton painted for Luke Gardiner, later Lord Mountjoy, and which Cunego engraved in 1775. The big picture, which is untraced, was probably commissioned by Gardiner after seeing T00864: Hamilton is known to have painted modelli of compositions which he hoped would later be com missioned.

‘Priam Pleading with Achilles’ is one of a series of Homeric subjects which Hamilton painted in Rome in the 1760s and ‘70s. Professor Waterhouse remarks that it ‘shows a return to Poussin’s principles of composition. We are certainly honourably reminded of Poussin’s series of the ‘Sacraments’ in the Earl of Ellesmere’s collection.’ (E. K. Waterhouse, ‘The British Contribution to the Neo-Classical style in Painting’, Proceedings of the British Academy, XL, p. 73; Cunego’s engraving is repr. as pi. X (a)).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.